Richard Stallman's 22-Page Rider

Richard Stallman is the head of the GNU project and president of the Free Software Foundation (FSF). His opinions are very strong, and he adheres completely to his convictions.

To some people, Stallman is a paranoid lunatic. While people nowadays give out all of their personal information online for free e.g. Facebook, he doesn't want "Big Brother" to know anything about him. He doesn't like to book hotels under his name, and he refuses to get a cell phone to ensure that he isn't being electronically tracked. Although I do not share a similar lifestyle, I understand his point of view. Other people say that he is "behind the times," especially due to the cell phone point and his refusal to use wi-fi1.

Then again, to other people, he's "that guy who ate crap off his foot during that lecture."

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Stallman makes his living giving lectures about the FSF and what it stands for, including topics such as software patents, digital privacy, and free software ("'Free' as in 'free speech,' not as in 'free beer.'"). He sends an information packet about his speeches and his accommodation requirements to people in charge of venues that will be hosting him. This is now colloquially know as "Richard Stallman's 22-Page Rider." It was posted online a few days ago. All of the following quotes come from the linked email.

The Understandable


However, if banners will be on display next to me while I am speaking, that is rather obnoxious; if they advertise organizations that I disapprove of on ethical grounds (which is not unlikely) I would want to take them down, cover them up, or turn them off during my speech.

Stallman is an activist icon in the computer field. People will record him. If I believed something was unethical, I know I wouldn't want to be recorded sitting next to it for hours.

Please do not ever broadcast or publish my speeches in formats that are not good for free software. I will not speak to make a recording or broadcast that requires non-free software to be heard or viewed. Don't use RealPlayer format, or Quicktime, or Windows Media Player format, or a patented format such as MPEG2, MPEG4, or MP3.

This requirement is very important, because if it is not followed, viewing my speech will require people to do the exact opposite of what I ask them to do. The medium's message would contradict my message.

I find this perfectly acceptable as well. If you were a schoolteacher, would you want to steal a TV to show your students a video on why stealing is bad?2

The Particular

Richard Stallman

Stallman is know to be very particular on what he will and will not do. Although some of these points may be annoying to those in charge of hosting him, they still aren't that bad. Most public figures/celebrities have some idiosyncrasies that hosts have to deal with. Sometimes these idiosyncrasies are due to a principle; sometimes they are due to their personalities.

I absolutely refuse to have a break in the middle of my speech. Once I start, I will go straight through.

If I am quite sleepy, I would like two cans or small bottles of non-diet Pepsi. (I dislike the taste of coke, and of all diet soda; also, there is an international boycott of the Coca Cola company for killing union organizers in Colombia and Guatemala; see However, if I am not very sleepy, I won't want Pepsi, because it is better if I don't drink so much sugar.

The FSF does not pay for my travel, and I can't afford to. I will need you to arrange to cover the cost of my traveling to and from your city (unless I've told you someone else will do it).


If you are not paying me a speaking fee, but you are paying for the airline tickets, I must insist that you cover the costs if I have to replace a lost ticket, the fee for changing the ticket if I miss a flight, or any other surprise expenses associated with my travel to and from your location.

Richard Stallman blesses Neelie Kroes

Finally, we get to why this email got so much attention. Stallman makes a few requests/demands on how he is accommodated.

When booking a hotel for him for his highly publicized events:

Please call the hotel and ask whether they will demand to see my passport, and whether they report all their guests to the police. If it has this policy, please join me in striking a blow against Big Brother, by looking for a place I can stay in that doesn't demand to see my passport, or report my visit to anyone. If the police want information about free software, they are welcome to come to my speech.

Above 72 fahrenheit (22 centigrade) I find sleeping quite difficult. (If the air is dry, I can stand 23 degrees.) A little above that temperature, a strong electric fan blowing on me enables me to sleep. More than 3 degrees above that temperature, I need air conditioning to sleep.

Knowing your temperature tolerance right down to the specific degree Fahrenheit is a level of self awareness that I'm incapable of ever achieving.

If you can find a host for me that has a friendly parrot, I will be very very glad. If you can find someone who has a friendly parrot I can visit with, that will be nice too.

DON'T buy a parrot figuring that it will be a fun surprise for me.

For reasons of principle, I am unwilling to identify myself in order to connect to the Internet. For instance, if a hotel gives a user name and password to each room, I won't use that system, since it would identify me. I would need some other way to connect.

Mind you, the username is not necessarily his name. It can be a randomly generated one from the hotel (I find they usually are). Also, your Internet traffic can be traced to the Ethernet port you are connected to, anyway.

One situation where I do not need help, let alone supervision, is in crossing streets. I grew up in the middle of the world's biggest city, full of cars, and I have crossed streets without assistance even in the chaotic traffic of Bangalore and Delhi. Please just leave me alone when I cross streets.

I really want to know the situation that caused him to add crossing streets to the general information packet.

In some places, my hosts act as if my every wish were their command. By catering to my every whim, in effect they make me a tyrant over them, which is not a role I like. I start to worry that I might subject them to great burdens without even realizing. I start being afraid to express my appreciation of anything, because they would get it and give it to me at any cost. If it is night, and the stars are beautiful, I hesitate to say so, lest my hosts feel obligated to try to get one for me.

If you are thinking of setting up a lunch or dinner for me with more than 4 people total, please consider that as a meeting, and discuss it with me in advance. Such meals draw on my strength, just like speeches and interviews. They are not relaxation, they are work.

I do not eat breakfast. Please do not ask me any questions about what I will do breakfast. Please just do not bring it up.

I tend to like music that has a feeling of dance in it, but I sometimes like other kinds too. However, I usually dislike the various genres that are popular in the US, such as rock, country, rap, reggae, techno, and composed American "folk". Please tell me what unusual music and dance forms are present; I can tell you if I am interested. If there is a chance to see folk dancing, I would probably enjoy that.

I don't see trash metal in that list. Actually, maybe Stallman has a secret life a bassist or a singer.

Stallman - Araya Comparison You be the judge.


I think a lot of the craziest parts of the letter probably have a reason for being there. Although the parrot part is funny, I can see someone buying a parrot just to please a celebrity. People have probably pushed him into breakfast meetings against his will. Everyone tries to talk to a guest at dinner, so the "no more than 4 people" rule is probably a crude version of crowd control. I still want to know the street-crossing story, though.

Things I learned from reading the rider:

Picture Sources

1 Update (2015-10-02): I've been contacted and told this is not true. RMS does use WiFi as long as it doesn't violate his privacy or software freedom concerns. For more information, read his article How I Do My Computing.

I didn't cite a source as I typically would for something like this, so I don't remember where I read this misinformation. I apologize for the error.

2 Given the opportunity, I would totally download a car, though.